Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hedonism and Self-Love

Too often in today's social climate, we hear self-righteous pundits becrying the hedonism and selfishness of the American people, and the cry for replacing materialism with spirituality.

As heathens, we must never cave in or cater to such dualistic hypocrisy.

I have a simple response to hedonism : I call it worship of holy Freyr, and an exercise of the freedom and joy that he charters for every self-respecting and responsible member of Mother Jord's community. Moreover, I perceive that Freyr wants there to be more pleasure, and indeed, that enlightened hedonism is a way to produce more peace and prosperity in the world.

Freyr is a god who will affirm the strong forces of desire within us, and like all the gods, he wants us to experience the pride in self, and the self-respect and healthy affirmation of appetite that some call "selfishness".

But Freyr is also a god of conviviality, of what our Anglo-Saxon forebears called freols, the communal freedom of a festival. This was deeper, and better than a party, and represented a vision of togetherness in liberty and mirth that went far beneath any supposed oppositions between selfishness and conviviality, selfishness and altruism. As I have demonstrated many times, as Frodi, Freyr organized the folk into mutual-aid guilds where they could pool their strengths and get more of what each of them wanted by working together in peace and harmony to create their desires and throw off the tyranny of the giants.

From this perspective, it is not selfishness that is the problem. It is a spiritual world-view that tries to create a zero-sum game which splits self from other and demonstrates a faulty lack of imagination in the possibilities of multiplying our desires together in the way the Vanir know brings prosperity to all who join in frith. The gods want us to be strong, each of us, and they encourage us to be strong together. We must reject models that subordinate the individual to the group, but rather see the group as a magical coming together of the wills, oaths, wisdom, and desires of each strong, proud, and responsible individual.

"Narcissism", which we hear so much about by those who little understand its original psychoanalytic context, is not a syndrome of those who are too full of themselves. It is the pathetic obsession for a self by those too empty of self-affirmation. It is sumble, not hypocritical cries for humility and altruism, that these folks need! For sumble is the communal affirmation of individual deeds proudly and well-done!

Moreover, as heathens, we are empowered by our ancestral faith to call out our brothers and sisters of other faiths on their insistence on separating materialism from spirituality, and share with them the truth of our troth that this separation is a delusion. This world is not perfect, and under the wrong circumstances, when all the runes are out of alignment and people are out of touch with their ancestral powers and the strong will of their wyrd, this world can even tend towards the worse ; yes, we acknowledge that there are giants. But this world was made to be a good place, and despite all the errors and follies that humans are prone to, despite the struggles and the pain, it remains a good place.

The material world is the home and body of our mother, Mother Jord. There can be nothing more sacred. Yes, we are filled with the breath-spirit of Odin, but our bodies were shaped from the trees that grow out of the very earth itself. In other words, our bodies grow and emerge from the earth itself!

So, no, materialism, selfishness, and hedonism are not evil. With healthy, robust, earthy-peasant moderation, and a good sense of proportion that enjoys satiety and therefore knows when to say "enough", all of these are good things. Evil is not any single thing. Evil is not one side of the balance of life, as if we could truncate reality. Evil is anything that goes too far beyond the natural proportions of life and existence, and will not come back. The giants are too much for the earth, and that is why they are confined to a special zone in the most barren of lands. They will not live in proportion, and threaten all who do. So they remain in the utgard.

Heathenism is holistic. Wholeness is one of our key spiritual values. Indeed, from a heathen perspective, there cannot be spirituality without wholeness. And wholeness means recognizing the essential union of what many would separate into "materialism" and "spirituality", "selfishness" and "altruism", "hedonism" and "sacrifice".

And yes, heathenism recognizes the value of sacrifice, for knowledge, for honor, for one's community, for the good of the world. We know of Odin's sacrifice on the Tree ; we know of his giving of his eye ; we know of Tyr's giving of his hand. But these were select, strategic, wisdom-guided, well-calculated, rare, and significant sacrifices made to make a difference, a difference worthwhile because it multiplied what was of most worth to them, and therefore augmented and did not diminish them. I do not say they suffered no pain for their sacrifices. They were sacrifices. But Odin was not constantly ripping out eyes, nor Tyr cutting off limbs. The gods give themselves fully to the struggles that have meaning. And they also clearly enjoy a freols where the ale runs freely, song and verse are strong and wondrous, and the pride of a good brag makes everyone feel good.

We must not allow the Cleavers (those who divide a holistic reality into two opposing categories) to monopolize the discussion of spirituality in this nation. We must speak up and declare a truth that in this context is refreshingly and even shockingly new, and yet which is also ancient and wise. It is the truth of our heathen way. It is the pleasure and self-fulfillment that seek out the self-fulfillment and pleasure of others, and makes for a good and hearty community.


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